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Monday, July 19, 2010

JUSTICE FOR ENSIGN PHILIP PESTANO

Justice for Ensign Philip Pestaño
MANO-A-MANO By Adel Tamano (The Philippine Star) Updated July 18, 2010 12:00 AM


Why should we even be talking about justice on a Sun-day? Isn’t today a time for family lunches and dinners, going to the mall, and relaxing? Justice — such a heavy, serious theme — seems a more appropriate subject matter for a weekday. However, the practice of Sunday being a “rest” day originated from the Jewish concept of the Sabbath, which was a time for reflection and devotion to God. Certainly, one of the most important themes of the Jewish faith, as expressed in the Old Testament, was the value of justice. The primary human story in Genesis speaks of the divine justice meted out to Adam and Eve for eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. Later, with the murder of Abel — which was the primordial crime (the first injustice towards a fellow human being) — when Yahweh asked Cain where Abel was, Cain asked God one of the most profound questions in human history: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The divine answer was in the affirmative; that we are, in truth, responsible for each other. And for Cain’s failure to adhere to this duty — and by way of justice for the murder of his brother — Cain was cursed to walk the earth for eternity.

Given the context of the numerous — often forgotten — stories of injustice in the Philippines and in order to affirm our divergence with Cain, meaning that we acknowledge our responsibility to our fellow man, let us use this day to remember the murder of Navy Ensign Philip Pestaño.

As a co-host of the weekly Rock Ed radio show, I had the opportunity to interview Philip’s parents and sisters. Philip’s and his family’s life story was at once deeply saddening and greatly inspiring — Philip was a graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University’s High School, Class of ‘89. After graduation, he went to the Philippine Military Academy, where he excelled in academics, particularly in mathematics. At the PMA, he was indoctrinated, as all cadets were, with a deep sense of honor and a love of God and country. Little did he know that this very code of honor would be his undoing.

Upon graduation, as a member of the Navy, he was assigned to work on board a supply ship, the BRP Bacolod City. Unfortunately, the ship was used not only for transporting supplies for the military but was also allegedly secretly ferrying illegally cut logs and even drugs like shabu (a form of methamphetamine). One of Philip’s duties was the signing the ship’s manifest, meaning he had to affirm that the ship had been used to transport specific — and of course lawful — articles only. Having a deep-rooted sense of duty, he refused to sign the ship’s manifest, which excluded the illegal items. Shortly after his refusal, he was found dead in his cabin. According to the military, he committed suicide. While that conclusion was most convenient, it did not conform to the facts — firstly, Philip had become religious during his time at the PMA and it would have been a grave violation of his Catholic belief to commit suicide; secondly, he had, but a few weeks prior to his “suicide,” proposed marriage to his fiancée. He was engaged to be married and it is against human experience for a man to commit suicide right after his engagement; lastly, as his family emphasized, Philip was a well-balanced, intelligent (he was a consistent dean’s lister at the PMA), successful, and generally happy person, someone very unlikely to think of ending his life by his own hand.

Refusing to accept the military’s “findings,” the Pestaño family went to the Department of Justice, the Ombudsman and the Senate, tirelessly seeking justice for the murder of their son and brother. No real relief was found with any of these government agencies and until today, more than a decade after Philip’s murder — despite the obvious fact of death and the lack of motive or real proof that it was by suicide — no criminal case has been filed with the Regional Trial Court against Philip’s killers. Ironically, it was from a body external to the Philippines, the United Nation’s Committee on Human Rights, that the Pestaño family has received some vindication. According to the UNCHR’s committee that investigated the case, Philip’s death was ruled as not a suicide but rather a homicide. Although far from a conviction of the masterminds and the killers, for the Pestaño family, it was a moral victory.

Moreover, the family has refused to let Phil-ip’s murder and the failures of the Philippine justice system destroy them. Instead,

they have become a stronger family and they have established Philip’s Sanctuary Bike Park in honor of Philip’s memory as a place where his ideals — honesty and love of country — could be commemorated.

In truth, Philip died a hero, embodying the ideals that Filipinos should aspire for. As Father Reuters said in memoriam, “Some military men are killed in battle. They are given a hero’s burial. But Phillip died for a much deeper cause — he was trying to preserve the integrity of our Armed Forces. He died out of loyalty to the Philippines, in an effort to keep the oath that he made when he graduated from the Military Academy.”

Finally, that the Pestaño family had to obtain some level of justice for Philip from non-Filipinos is appalling. It shows how problematic our system of justice is and perhaps how little we as a people give value to justice for others. In our parochial and personalistic frame of mind, we believe that as long as injustice is heaped on others — and not on our families or loved ones — that it doesn’t affect us. But that is an illusion because a crime against the Pestaño family is a crime against all of us. To forget Philip’s murder is not only to become Cain’s heir but it is likewise a repudiation of his values — integrity, honesty, honor and love of country. This is why we cannot rest until there is justice for Philip.

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